Kyle Love was the Patriots starting DT until he was diagnosed with diabetes within the last two weeks. Once the Patriots found out, they cut him. Not only did they cut him, but they essentially confirmed he was cut because of the diagnosis, because of the uncertainty surrounding his recovery time. How is this possible?
The NFL and its teams often appear to operate outside the realm of the real world and we accept that because it's football; it is an awesome sport. But this should make you pause for a second: the Patriots fired an employee because he has a disability. Even though the employment relationship between team and player is, in name, contractual, NFL players are essentially at-will employees. The at-will relationship is the most beneficial labor relationship for management because it means employees can be fired for just about any reason. Except those that are discriminatory.
The Americans with Disabilities Act protects against disability-based discrimination—with discrimination based on sex, race, age, disability, etc. covered elsewhere in federal law—in the workplace and the NFL is subject to it. Whether a disability is recognized under the act is determined under a case-by-case basis, but diabetes has definitely been considered a disability under the Act. The general rule for determining whether a condition is a disability is if it "substantially limits one or more of a person's major life activities." This is naturally vague and unhelpful because it is a law, but it could very easily be shown that Type 2 Diabetes substantially limits a major life activity. From the EEOC:
Diabetes also is a disability when it causes side effects or complications that substantially limit a major life activity. Even if diabetes is not currently substantially limiting because it is controlled by diet, exercise, oral medication, and/or insulin, and there are no serious side effects, the condition may be a disability because it was substantially limiting in the past (i.e., before it was diagnosed and adequately treated). Finally, diabetes is a disability when it does not significantly affect a person's everyday activities, but the employer treats the individual as if it does. For example, an employer may assume that a person is totally unable to work because he has diabetes.
Under those guidelines, there are any number of ways to determine that Kyle Love's condition is a disability. In order to prevent employers from just firing a disabled person, the Act requires that the employer make reasonable accommodations so that the disabled person can still perform the essential functions of their job. For Kyle Love that means playing football, which is admittedly a lot different than sitting at a desk. Still, the ADA doesn't require employers to suffer through a sub-par employee; it just requires that a reasonable effort be made to work with the employee. If an employer, in this case the team, can't find a satisfactory way to get the most out of Kyle Love because of his disability, then the ADA can't help him.
According to his agent, Love lost weight over the off-season, before his diagnosis, but he has regained most of it, even fully participating in offseason workouts. Love and his agent believe he will be 100 percent come training camp. The Patriots "expressed concern about not knowing what Love's recovery time would be." It's tough to discuss what reasonable accommodations the Patriots could have made not knowing the nature of Love's condition, but it's safe to say not much effort was made in two weeks.
NFL teams routinely cut players because they are old, because they are injured, because they are malcontents. It is at-will employment at its "finest." Maybe an older player can't play as well, even despite reasonable accommodations. Same for the injured and angry. But there are avenues available to these victims of the machine that they are not exploring. Virtually every write up about this story had some glib comment about the cold nature of the business side of football. "Welcome to the NFL." The players have resigned themselves to it.
Jay Cutler, a strong-armed quarterback, has Type 1 diabetes, which is the worse of the two types. Cutler was not cut because of his diabetes, though, because he is not expendable (yet). Big bodies on the line are. This is the exact kind of scenario the ADA was designed to prevent and yet players never avail themselves of it. Maybe they don't want to rock the boat and anger future employers (another strike against management practices) or maybe they are complicit.
Maybe admitting to being disabled goes against the gladiator mentality they have operated under their entire lives.